If you run on trails the probability of falling goes up exponentially.
It happened to me for the first time about 4 days ago. I was speeding through a 5 mile trail run on a nice leafy path. During the final downhill section a root stub sticking out of ground about 2 inches caught my left foot. I immediately went horizontal.
If you could rewind the tape and play it in slow motion you would see the following:
My Fall in Slow MO
Run, run, run, run, run, . . . TRIPPPPPPP . . . . flying, flying, flying . . . [ground is approaching] . . . [arms are flailing] . . . SPLAT.
And this is what went through my mind,
“OHHHH NOOOOO, I’M FALLLLLING . . . . . THIS WILL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST!!!”
Now thankfully I am pretty good at falling because I took gymnastics as a kid. I quickly turned my fall into a triple back handspring with a reverse somersault. I wish you could have been there. Unfortunately nobody got it on camera. 😉
After I stood up I found the little root that got me in trouble. This was my first fall as a runner but will probably not be my last. Here’s what you can do to fall better:
Expect the Unexpected
I saw a woman fall at the Rocket City Marathon. I later heard her say that her goal of a BQ went out the window that day because of this mishap. But, she was a tough marathoner and didn’t let it ruin her day.
Dean Karnazes, author of the book Run! 26.2 Stories of Blisters and Bliss earned a DNF for the second time at the Leadville Trail 100 because of taking a bad fall. With all the time and effort it takes to train for a 100 miler, you can imagine how demoralizing this would be. Dean returned the next year and earned his buckle.
Elite runner Meb Keflezighi fell and busted his knee while training for the 2013 New York City Marathon. This injury gave him trouble during the race and forced him to stop and walk at mile 19. He finished 23rd disheartened but undeterred. Meb is currently training for Boston.
And perhaps the most tragic story about a runner who took a fall came to the attention of the whole world at last year’s New York City Marathon. The 86 year old runner Joy Johnson took at fall at mile 20 suffering a head injury that later proved to be fatal. Joy finished the marathon but died in her sleep later that night.
“I want to keep running as long as I can and drop in my running shoes when my time comes.” -Joy Johnson
To expect the unexpected is to be aware that anything can happen when you lace up your running shoes and leave the house.
A fall has the potential of derailing your training and altering your plans. Having this awareness is helpful. Running with awareness will help you monitor the terrain more carefully, but mishaps can still happen. Having the stubbornness to dust yourself off and try again is what makes life long marathoners successful.
Learning to Fall Better
In the trail running book Never Wipe Your Ass With A Squirrel (the actual title), author Jason Robillard writes about learning how to fall.
“Find a location with soft ground. Sand is perfect. Grassy fields are another good choice. Run at a slow speed, then purposely fall on the ground.”
The trick its, Robillard explains, to keep your elbows bent, let your arms act as the initial shock absorbers, and roll when you hit the ground.
The goal is to soften the fall by letting your inertia work itself out in the roll. Protect the head at all costs. If you’re carrying a handheld water bottle let it be a buffer between your palms and the ground.
The next section of the book explains how to properly fall of a cliff, but that’s beyond the scope of this blog post.
I do like his advice about practicing your fall. This is essentially what I did in gymnastics during our tumbling exercises. The muscle memory will come in handy when that unexpected little root is in your path.
My advice is to practice on the rug in your living room. When you get good at falling there take it to more challenging places like the break room at work or the produce isle at Whole Foods. Airport terminals are also ideal.
Have you ever taken a tumble while running? Leave a comment below!